Disney Imagineers are responsible for designing new ideas for the company’s parks and attractions. One of the main skills required for a Disney Imagineer is the ability to think outside of the box.
Unfortunately, those big ideas sometimes go beyond what is actually possible. Other times, a great idea simply just doesn’t make the cut for so many reasons. There is a countless number of sketches that never became reality, but here are just ten of the most intriguing Disney attraction ideas that were never finished.
10 The Enchanted Snow Palace
Frozen hit theaters in 2013, and it quickly rose to one of the most popular Disney animated films of all time. However, interest in adapting the original Hans Christian Andersen story “The Snow Queen” was around Disney years before they finally decided to turn it into a movie. Marc Davis was one of the original designers and animators at Disney. He was responsible for designing Tinker Bell, Cruella de Vil, Maleficent, Aurora, and so many more. When Disneyland was created, he was the mastermind behind It’s A Small World, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
In 1978, Davis designed The Enchanted Snow Palace, which was a snow castle built into the edge of a glacier. He thought that visitors to the hot California park would appreciate a cold, air-conditioned ride. The ride was supposed to take park guests around in a boat, visiting the Snow Queen and all of her creations, including polar bears, snow giants, and her icy throne room. The ride idea was rejected because they were trying to put in more roller coasters and thrilling attractions instead of slow-moving, peaceful rides. Davis was so discouraged by the rejection of his beautiful ideas that he decided it was time to retire from Disney.
Marc Davis died in 2000, and he never got to see Disney’s version of “The Snow Queen” coming to life when Frozen premiered. In his original sketch of the Snow Queen, she is blonde, and her hair is braided. She’s wearing a blue dress that appears to be made out of snow and ice. It’s clear that they took his original sketches as inspiration for Elsa. The Frozen Ever After ride opened in 2016, and it is very similar to Marc Davis’s original idea. Park guests get to peacefully float in a boat through Elsa’s ice castle.
9 The Great Muppet Movie Ride
In 1989, Jim Henson met with Disney Imagineers and came up with multiple concepts for a Muppet-themed park. Disney promised to give Henson a huge amount of creative control, and the Imagineering team really enjoyed collaborating with him. Disney was so serious about this that they even showed a commercial announcing their intentions with concept sketches. One of these ideas was the Great Muppet Movie Ride. According to Jim Henson himself, the ride was supposed to show what “really” goes on behind the scenes of a movie set . . . except of course, the Muppets got it all wrong. Characters like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy would reenact scenes from famous Hollywood films.
During the planning process, Jim Henson met with his lawyers and expressed his frustrations because nearly every idea he pitched to Disney met with some sort of criticism or roadblock. He felt as though he wasn’t getting the creative control he was promised. In 1990, Jim Henson suddenly died at only 53 years old. Rumors were floating around that he was supposed to sell the Muppets to Disney for $ 200 million, but he passed away before the deal ever happened. In 2004, Disney bought the Muppets from Henson’s family for less than half of the rumored price. They paid $ 78 million, released several new movies, and began profiting from merchandise sales.
8 Tomorrowland 2055
Since Disneyland opened in 1955, the Tomorrowland park quickly became outdated by the 1990s. In 1998, Disney recruited Star Wars creator George Lucas to help them design a new Tomorrowland that would be a sci-fi version of the “future,” rather than try to predict what will actually happen. Tomorrowland 2055 would have featured animatronic alien bands, a “tour of the galaxy,” and a 360-degree movie experience directed by Lucas called From Time to Time. There were even “invisible” acrylic walkways where people felt as if they were walking on air.
While the designs for Tomorrowland 2055 were impressive, the Imagineer team estimated that it would take over two years to complete, and it was far too expensive. The only extraterrestrial attraction that came to life in Tomorrowland was Alien Encounter, and it was placed in the Disney World park in Orlando, Florida. While a lot of people loved that ride, it was considered to be too scary for kids, and it was removed from the park.
7 Disney’s America
In 1992, Disney planned to build a third park inside the United States that was totally themed around US history and patriotism. It was supposed to be built on 3,000 acres in Manassas, Virginia. The idea was that tourists who were already on their way to Washington, DC’s, historic landmarks could stop by Disney’s America while they were on vacation. Each section of the park brought guests through a timeline of US history.
The entrance to the park was a Civil War–era town where guests could board an antique train. The train would drop guests off at a Native American village, a Civil War fort, and a replica of what immigration was like on Ellis Island in the early 1900s. There was even a section that would show guests what life was like as a slave trying to escape on the Underground Railroad. However, historians and archaeologists took issues with the accuracy of some of the ideas Disney was proposing, and they also saw it as exploitation of tragic events. Disney was also planning to build on top of a piece of land that was an actual Civil War landmark. The local government in Virginia didn’t allow Disney to go through with this project.
6 National Harbor
Even though the plans for Disney’s America fell through in the 1990s, the corporation still had their eyes on the Metro DC area. In 2009, Disney purchased 15 acres of land in Prince George County, Maryland, with the plan to build a 500-room waterfront resort on National Harbor. The local government was supportive of their plans because they saw it as an opportunity to create new jobs and attract even more tourism to the area, since that was their main source of income. Locals were very hopeful that the Disney resort would create new jobs, considering that the 2008 recession caused a huge economic downturn in that area.
Around the same time, Disney was already building their Aulani Resort in Hawaii. The resort incorporates local culture with character actors from their Hawaii-themed movies like Lilo & Stitch and Moana. Residents of National Harbor continued to wait for the beginning of the Disney resort’s construction, until 2011, when it was officially announced that they would no longer build the multimillion-dollar project.
5 Discovery Bay
Tony Baxter was a Disney Imagineer who drew up plans for a whole new Disney park called Discovery Bay. The park was inspired by the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1800s, reimagined in a Victorian-era steampunk style along the lines of the stories of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Baxter incorporated elements of the live-action Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and planned to build a large artificial waterfront.
Much of the park was also inspired by a live-action movie Disney premiered in 1974 called The Island at the Top of the World. Some of the attractions were a hot-air balloon, a massive glass Victorian greenhouse, a magnetic roller coaster, and an elevator that blasted guests into the air with a water geyser. The Island at the Top of the World totally flopped in the box office, and park executives took it as a sign that guests would not visit Discovery Bay. So, they canceled the project.
4 The S.S. Disney
Most people know that fans of Disney can take their families on a themed cruise, but at one point in time, there were plans to rebuild an aircraft carrier into an out-of-this-world experience called the S.S. Disney. The idea was to build a full-fledged theme park on the deck of a ship. They even planned out the space for miniaturized versions of Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Adventureland with some of the most iconic rides.
The boat would travel to different ports around the world and only stay in each location for a limited time. Then, it would sail to the next country. It would only visit each place every four to five years, which would cause guests to get excited to visit the S.S. Disney, since it would only be around for a short period of time. Despite the fact that Imagineers created a model of the S.S. Disney, the project was never actually started. It was probably way too unrealistic to think that a floating theme park could survive all kinds of sailing conditions while circumnavigating the globe.
3 The Dark Kingdom
One of the things that makes Disney movies so great is that the villains are so deliciously devious that they’re actually likeable. So, why has there never been a villain-centric Disneyland attraction? Villain characters walk around taking requests for selfies, give autographs, and are featured in the Disneyland Halloween parade. Beyond that, they’re never given much of the spotlight. According to Chuck Mirarchi, the author of the Disney park history book Four Decades of Magic, Disney was seriously considering building a park called Dark Kingdom in Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Maleficent’s castle would have been the centerpiece of the park, and rides would have been themed around some of the classic baddies like Ursula and Captain Hook. Mirarchi believes that the reason why Disney didn’t go through with the plan was because they spent billions of dollars acquiring Marvel around the same time. A few years later, they purchased the rights to Star Wars, too. Maybe someday, the Dark Kingdom will have its opportunity, only this time, villains like Loki and Darth Vader will join in on the fun.
2 Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood
In 1991, the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park (later renamed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios) was opened inside Disney World in Florida, and characters that had been acquired by Disney, including Roger Rabbit, were featured in the park. At one point in time, there were plans to create a section of the park called Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood. It would have included Maroon Cartoon Studios, the Acme Warehouse, and the same restaurant from the film. A few of the ideas for the rides included a roller coaster, dark rides, Baby Herman’s Runaway Baby Buggy, and the ToonTown Trolley, which would have been an immersive movie experience, similar to Star Tours.
However, Disney and Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin Entertainment got into an argument over the legal rights to the Roger Rabbit franchise. They decided to go with a much smaller area called ToonTown instead. Since some of the proposed park’s rides were already built, like a collection of cars designed to look like “Billy the Cab,” they were reused in a ride called Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin. There was also a Jessica Rabbit store on Pleasure Island for a short period of time.
1 The Soviet Union At Epcot
During the Cold War, the United States wouldn’t touch anything that was related to Russia and the Soviet Union. However, in 1990, The New York Times announced that Disney CEO Michael Eisner had revealed that they were negotiating to create a land honoring the Soviet Union inside Epcot.
They had sketches of the buildings, including a replica of the colorful and iconic Saint Basil’s Cathedral. One of the rides would have been based on the Russian fairy tale “By The Pike’s Wish” and called Ivan and the Magic Pike. The park would never come to be, as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia’s economy got worse and worse in the late 1990s, there weren’t any major Russian corporations willing to sponsor the park. As the years went on, and Russia’s economy improved, Disney park executives decided they wanted to revisit the idea of adding Russia to Epcot. However, with the most recent political unease between Russia and the United States, the idea has been benched yet again.